Chimps should be recognized as 'legal persons,' lawsuits claim - KiiiTV.com South Texas, Corpus Christi, Coastal Bend

Chimps should be recognized as 'legal persons,' lawsuits claim

COURTESY: Nonhuman Rights Project COURTESY: Nonhuman Rights Project
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Nonhuman Rights Project is filing suits on behalf of four captive chimpanzees
  • The owners of the four chimpanzees have not commented on the lawsuits
  • The lawsuits seek the animals' "right to bodily liberty" and their placement in a sanctuary
  • The activist group says it plans to file more suits on behalf of elephants, dolphins and whales

By Holly Yan and Mayra Cuevas

Should a captive chimpanzee have the same rights as a "legal person"?

That's the debate set to unfold after an activist group filed lawsuits on behalf of four chimpanzees, asking the New York Supreme Court to grant them the "right to bodily liberty."

"When we go to court on behalf of the first chimpanzee plaintiffs, we'll be asking judges to recognize, for the first time, that these cognitively complex, autonomous beings have the basic legal right to not be imprisoned," said Steven M. Wise, founder and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project.

According to the group, the four chimpanzees are all held in New York state:

• Tommy, 26, is living in a cage on a trailer lot in Gloversville.

• Kiko, 26, formerly worked in the entertainment industry and is now living in Niagara Falls on private property, where he is caged.

• Hercules and Leo, two young males, are owned by New Iberia Research Center and used in a locomotion research experiment in the Anatomy Department at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook.

"Not long ago, people generally agreed that human slaves could not be legal persons, but were simply the property of their owners," Wise said. "We will assert, based on clear scientific evidence, that it's time to take the next step and recognize that these nonhuman animals cannot continue to be exploited as the property of their human 'owners.' "

Neither the owner of Tommy nor the owner of Kiko has responded to CNN's requests for comment.

But Stony Brook University spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow said the university "has not seen any legal papers related to this matter and therefore is unable to comment."

What is personhood?

"To be a 'legal person,' one doesn't need to be a human being or even a biological being. A corporation is a legal person," wrote Joyce Tischler, co-founder of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

Even if the chimpanzees don't understand what a lawsuit is, they benefit from being directly represented, she said.

"We see that in children. They can be removed from an abusive home and be protected, even though the child might not be able to formulate those desires and the issues represented in the court of law," Tischler told CNN.

She added that Spain's parliament passed a resolution in 2008 that deemed great apes to be considered legal persons.

So why not file suit on behalf of all animals?

"Lawsuits have to address a real problem faced by an individual plaintiff. You cannot sue on behalf of all animals everywhere," Tischler said.

The lawsuits are asking for the four chimpanzees to be moved to a sanctuary "where they can live out their days with others of their kind in an environment as close to the wild as is possible in North America," the Nonhuman Rights Project said.

The group said it plans to file more lawsuits across the country on behalf of captive animals "who are scientifically proven to be self aware and autonomous," such as elephants, dolphins and whales.
   
 CNN's Kevin Conlon and Dave Alsup contributed to this report.
   
 The-CNN-Wire
 ™ & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

 
  • Texas State Aquarium In Running For National Honors

    Texas State Aquarium In Running For National Honors

    Thursday, July 24 2014 12:21 AM EDT2014-07-24 04:21:43 GMT
    The Texas State Aquarium have been nominated as a finalist to be named one of the Top Ten Aquariums in the US and Canada. It's all part of a readers choice contest by USA Today. If you would like to vote for the Texas State Aquarium click here.More >>
    The Texas State Aquarium have been nominated as a finalist to be named one of the Top Ten Aquariums in the US and Canada. It's all part of a readers choice contest by USA Today. If you would like to vote for the Texas State Aquarium click here.More >>
  • Online Petition Aimed At Saving Park

    Online Petition Aimed At Saving Park

    Thursday, July 24 2014 12:17 AM EDT2014-07-24 04:17:35 GMT
    A local man has started an online petition in hopes of keeping the city from selling a park in his neighborhood.More >>
    A local man has started an online petition in hopes of keeping the city from selling a park in his neighborhood.More >>
  • Special Report: Asleep at the Wheel

    Special Report: Asleep at the Wheel

    Thursday, July 24 2014 12:14 AM EDT2014-07-24 04:14:08 GMT
    Most people are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, but may not realize that drowsy driving can be just as fatal. With more drivers on the road, words like sleepy, tired, exhausted, are taking on a whole new meaning when it comes to your safety.We talk with drivers, state troopers and driving instructors to examine what could be done to make our highways less dangerous in a 3News Special Report: Asleep at the Wheel.More >>
    Most people are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, but may not realize that drowsy driving can be just as fatal. With more drivers on the road, words like sleepy, tired, exhausted, are taking on a whole new meaning when it comes to your safety.We talk with drivers, state troopers and driving instructors to examine what could be done to make our highways less dangerous in a 3News Special Report: Asleep at the Wheel.More >>